When the pandemic struck the United States, many schools transitioned to remote learning, and many parents sought out a more personalized alternative, like a learning pod. In North Las Vegas, forward-thinking city leaders teamed with national personalized learning experts to create a first-of its kind public-private microschool.

The Southern Nevada Urban Microschool Academy (SNUMA) opened in August through a novel partnership between the City of North Las Vegas and the education nonprofit Nevada Action for School Options. Now in its second semester, the microschool offers a free, individualized education option for North Las Vegas residents and the children of front-line health-care workers and first responders.

North Las Vegas is home to approximately 250,000 residents, more than 40 percent of whom are Latino and more than 20 percent of whom are Black, and with a per-capita income roughly 70 percent of the national average. Children in the program, which serves grades 1-8, register as homeschool students, attending in-person every day and following all health precautions and requirements. The microschool operates in the city’s recreation centers and libraries.

SNUMA has quickly achieved significant student academic growth rates.

Among the highlights, as of December:

  • More than three-fourths of children arrived at SNUMA below grade level in reading, with most of these well more than a grade level behind. By the midpoint of its first school year, more than three out of five children demonstrated English Language Arts mastery at or above grade level, with a similar story in math,
  • Nearly three-quarters of third-grade children (71 percent) were reading below grade level; 42 percent are now at grade level and 28 percent are above grade level. Additionally, 85 percent have completed at least one year’s worth of growth since their initial assessment.
  • SNUMA Learners are on pace for 125% of a year’s academic learning gains over the 2020-21 school year.

“If parents are looking for an alternative to the traditional brick-and-mortar school, this is a great alternative,” notes North Las Vegas Councilwoman Pamela Goynes-Brown, a former teacher who is one of the program’s primary architects. “The microschool is such a tight-knit model, with one-on-one interactions. Kids are moving academically at their pace as they master the instruction at their level.”

Nevada Action for School Options received a grant from VELA to support SNUMA’s launch. Don Soifer, the president of Nevada Action, said public backing from North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee and City Councilwoman Goynes-Brown, among others, has been key to launching this innovative program. Talks are currently underway to ensure the program continues as an option for North Las Vegas families even after the pandemic ends.

Parents are hopeful the program will outlast the pandemic.

As one parent wrote about her children’s experience at SNUMA, “Every day, I breathe a sigh of relief and feel such joy when I see my boys engaged, excited to learn, having fun, making friends and coming home full of new facts and ideas. At pickup and drop off, we are greeted by friendly, smiling rec center staff who know the kiddos and families, and seem genuinely happy to play with them and interact. SNUMA is just fantastic all around.”

Learn more about SNUMA or Nevada Action, or contact VELA with your own innovative learning model.